Yemen has a changeable history as a modern state
formation. Today's Yemen Republic came into being in May
1990, when the two neighboring states (northern) Yemen and
southern Yemen merged into one state. The merger failed to
integrate the two parts, and it resulted in both a civil war
for detachment in the south and continued demands for
Yemen's location at the entrance to the Red Sea has given
ancient and modern times an important strategic position.
The Cold War expanded in this area because Marxist South
Yemen was closely associated with the Soviet Union, while
North Yemen turned to the West. One dimension was also the
political rivalry between Arab states. In Yemen, it was
expressed during the civil war in the early 1960s, when
radical Egypt intervened militarily, and was indirectly in
conflict with conservative Saudi Arabia. The UN deployed a
peacekeeping force - the United Nations Yemen
Observation Mission (UNYOM) - which Norway also
participated in. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Yemen.
Yemen's recent history includes the post-World War I
period, with the decolonization of South Yemen, civil war
and the merger of one state in 1990, with a new civil war.
Also read the articles: Yemen's contemporary
history, the uprising in Yemen 2011–2012, and the war in
Division into two states
Yemen's modern history is largely marked by the fact that
the country was long divided into what became an independent
state in the north and a British protectorate in the south
(which then became its own state) - and disputes associated
with this division.
Yemen Arab Republic
When the Ottoman forces were withdrawn from Yemen after
World War I, zaidi imam Yahya secured control of the
country, challenging the UK's right to contact the tribes of
the South Yemen Protectorate, which he also considered his
subjects. In 1934, however, the Imam accepted the border
demarcation between the British and the Turks, which laid
the groundwork for the later division of the country into
the two independent states.
Yahya remained neutral during World War II despite an
established relationship with fascist Italy. Imam Yahya was
killed in a coup in 1948, and his son Ahmad took power. He
ruled just as autocratic, but opened Yemen to the outside
world. Ahmad was suspicious of Egypt under President Gamal
Abdel Nasser, which approximates the United Kingdom.
(Northern) Yemen made demands on Aden, and there were
military clashes in 1953 and 1958. Yemen (northern Yemen)
entered a federation with the United Arab Republic (Union of
Egypt and Syria) in 1958, but this became dissolved again in
1961 without being realized.
In 1955 and 1961 there were attempts to overthrow Imam
Ahmad bin Yahya. When he died in 1962, an officer rebellion,
later known as the Revolution, erupted and Ahmad's
successor, Mohammed al-Badr, was overthrown. The rebellion
was backed by Egypt and led to the establishment of the Arab
Republic of Yemen.
The revolution led the monarchists to mobilize, with
financial and military support from Saudi Arabia. Egypt
entered the conflict to defend a radical Arab regime and to
secure a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula. Around 70,000
Egyptian soldiers came to the rescue of the Yemeni military
regime in the ensuing civil war. A United Nations Yemen
Observation Mission (UNYOM) was deployed in 1963-1964
to monitor the border with Saudi Arabia. Norway participated
with a small number of observers in the force. Following the
defeat of Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, Egypt withdrew
Fighting between Republicans and royalists continued
until 1969, until the war ended in 1970 after costing around
200,000 lives. That same year, the royal family returned to
Yemen. After an unstable period with several leaders, Ali
Abdullah Saleh took over as head of state in 1978. In 1979,
the country was attacked by Marxist South Yemen. The United
States sent military forces to (northern) Yemen and supplied
the country with weapons. The fighting ended with an
agreement to unite the two states.
The government in Sanaa was also destabilized by the
left-wing National Democratic Front (NDF), which
was beaten after a major offensive in 1982. At the same
time, South Yemen ended its support for the North Yemeni
armed opposition, and a period of political stability began.
Saleh founded a ruling party, the General People's
Congress (GPC), the first of its kind in (northern)
Yemen. Saleh was elected president in 1983.
While North Yemen was an independent Imamate, South Yemen
was a British protectorate, while Aden had a colony status.
It had the largest British military base outside Europe,
with a high standard of living and extensive political
After World War II, an Egyptian-backed nationalist
movement, the National Liberation Front (NLF),
emerged, demanding independence and advocating the creation
of a socialist state in southern Yemen. In 1961, Aden joined
the Federation of Southern Arabia, however, not an
independent state formation but a loose association. In
1963, NLF started an armed resistance struggle against the
British regime. In Aden, another group operated, Front
for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). In
1967, NLF took control of Aden from FLOSY after a brief
civil war, and then established control of the interior.
In 1966, the United Kingdom began decolonization, and
withdrew from Aden on November 30, 1967. Thus, South Yemen
became an independent state. The country's first president
was Qahtan al-Shaabi from the NLF.
The new state expelled British military advisers and
replaced them with Soviet; The Soviet Union also supplied
South Yemen with weapons. After internal contradictions in
the NLF, Shaabi was deposed in a coup in 1969 and replaced
by a presidential council, led by Salim Rubai Ali. The
change of power meant a left turn, and in 1970 the country's
name was changed to the Democratic People's Republic of
Political instability characterized the 1970s. A quarter
of the population fled the country, which was in constant
crisis and sustained through Soviet assistance. The
relationship with Northern Yemen was conflict-ridden, and
there was fighting at the border in 1972. In 1978, the NLF
was transformed into a Marxist-Leninist party, the Yemen
Socialist Party (YSP). The internal disputes led to a
brief civil war in 1986.
Collection in one state
Despite strong contradictions, battles on the border in
1973 and 1979 and mutual interference in the other state's
internal affairs, both countries were ready for a merger.
Already in 1972, the two states signed the first of several
agreements to merge, which, however, did not occur until
In addition to historical and cultural conditions, with a
common Yemenite identity, economic development in particular
was crucial. South Yemen could no longer count on support
from the Soviet Union, and the state's existence was
threatened. An important factor was also the discovery of
oil and natural gas in both states; partly in disputed
border areas. One reason why a rally was difficult was
ideological contradictions, and the fact that states were
not equal partners and one of them (the northern one) would
become the dominant one.
On May 21, 1990, both countries' parliament approved the
merger; unanimously in the south, against some opposition
from Islamists in the north. The next day, the two national
assemblies met for a joint session and elected a five-man
presidency. (Northern) Yemen, by virtue of its size and
economy, was the strongest party in the new state formation,
and President Ali Abdullah Saleh became the new Republic's
president; the leader of the South Yemenite state-bearing
party, Ali Salem al-Baid, vice president. Sana became the
capital; Aden the new financial center. The parliament of
the two former states was merged, and a liberal constitution
was passed after a 1991 referendum.
The first parliamentary elections were held in 1993; the
first democratic, general multiparty election on the Arabian
Yemen is a traditionally bound society, where both
political organization and public governance within modern
structures have a short history. Traditional power
relations, and loyalty to the tribe and clan, are strong,
not least in the countryside.
Cultural conflicts especially related to religion,
including a separation between Sunnis and Shi'ites, have
contributed to the uprising in the north. When integration
between the two states did not emerge in the 1990s, this was
due to both cultural differences and unfulfilled
expectations of developments in the south.
The dissatisfaction with how the southern part was
addressed within the United States led to political
resistance and armed struggle - and to the southern part of
the country trying to break out after a civil war. This
rebellion was suppressed, but political tensions have
persisted, giving rise to several impacts - including
military rebellion in the north and political opposition in
the south. In addition, political tension and violent
actions are the result of the activities of radical
In 1993, political opposition grew in the south, and
there was an armed clash between rival military units. In
the spring of 1994, the conflict developed into full civil
war between the two old states. This led in May to the then
deposed Vice President Baid proclaiming the Democratic
Republic of Yemen in the south, and broke out of the United
States formation of 1990. After military fighting and siege
of Aden, the South Yemeni forces were defeated and the
rebels surrendered 7. July. Yemen was then continued as one
state. Saleh was re-elected president.
Weak central power and high tensions have contributed to
the radicalization of radical Islamist groups in Yemen;
above all, a local part of the al-Qaeda terror network:
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Several well-known
members of al-Qaeda come from these two countries, including
Osama bin Laden.
Yemen has long been used as a base for terrorist actions.
A radical group, the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan,
was active towards the end of the 1990s. Several members had
backgrounds from mujahedin in Afghanistan; many of them then
joined al-Qaeda. It is estimated that about 4,000 Yemenis
participated in jihad against the Soviet Union in
Afghanistan, and that many more with experience there sought
refuge in Yemen. Around 90 of the prisoners in the
Guantanamo base in Cuba, more than from any other country,
came from Yemen.
The US feared that Yemen would develop into a base for
international terror. The fear was partly confirmed in 2000
when the US Navy vessel USS Cole was attacked during a stay
in Aden, and in 2002 when the French tanker Limburg was hit
by an attack. Following the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, Yemen and the United States began cooperation in
2002 in the fight against terrorism. As part of this, US
special forces have trained Yemenite counterterrorism and
The 2015 war has allowed the Islamic State (IS) to
strengthen its foothold in Yemen, partly at the expense of
AQAP. IS has also carried out several actions in Yemen.
Northern Yemen and South Yemen conducted various foreign
policy, with South Yemen particularly seeking support from
the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc; Northern Yemen had
good relations with Saudi Arabia, and thus with the United
States. In the late 1980s, South Yemen's relations with both
Saudi Arabia and the West also improved. The United Yemen
came into being after the dissolution of the Soviet Union
and continued the relations established by both states;
regionally and globally.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 put the recently united
state in a difficult situation. Iraq was an important
trading partner and aid provider, while Saudi Arabia was
both a strong neighbor and Yemen's largest financial backer,
as well as an important labor market for Yemeni workers.
From December 1990, Yemen chaired the Security Council and
sought to mediate in the conflict, without bringing it
forward. Yemen's relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf
states were weakened by the war, and the expulsion of over
half a million Yemeni workers from Saudi Arabia had
significant negative consequences for Yemen's economy.
When South Yemen in 1994 attempted to break out of the
United Yemen, the new state formation was immediately
recognized by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The authorities in the north accused Saudi Arabia of
encouraging the outbreak, and even received support from
Iran and Iraq.
Discussions to resolve a border dispute with Saudi Arabia
were resumed in 1995, following mediation from Syria. The
year before, there was an armed clash between the two
countries over disputed islands in the Red Sea.
Relations with the United States improved after the
Second Gulf War, and Yemen joined the international fight
against terror in early 2001. In 2009, Saudi Arabia provided
military support in the fight against Houti rebels in the
north, while Iran was accused of supporting them.. After the
regime change in 2012, Saudi Arabia, but also the UAE, has
played an increasingly active role in Yemen. Saudi Arabia
was the driving force for the multinational military
intervention in 2015. The UAE was one of the coalition
countries that sent the largest ground forces to Yemen.
The relationship with Oman has traditionally not been
good, but in the late 1980s there was a reconciliation
between South Yemen and Oman. This paved the way for a 1992
border demarcation agreement; in 1993 the border was opened.
During the liberation war in Eritrea, Yemen in the 1980s
welcomed thousands of refugees from there. In 1995 there
were military meetings between the two countries; the
conflict revolved around control of the Hanish Islands. In
1998, the International Court of Justice in The Hague
granted Yemen control over the majority of the islands.